the short board gaming provokes love-hate feelings, or at least like-dislike feelings

For the shorts I’ve written about before, I’ve usually chosen things I really like. I’m a little ambivalent about The Politics of Competitive Board Gaming Amongst Friends, but I felt like I had to write about it because I have a somewhat twisted love-hate relationship with board gaming and the movie illustrates some of my like-mild-dislike issues with documentaries, and I figured I could air all of it in one go.

Before you read on, you should probably just go ahead an watch it:

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the flimsy, sad future of bartholomew’s song

IMDB.com estimates that Bartholomew’s Song cost $2,500, a figure that’s been rattling around in my head while I’ve been thinking how damn good it is. The short is only about 10 minutes long, but the directors, Lowell Frank and Destin Daniel Cretton, have made a virtue out of a low budget and a brief run time.

B.’s Song takes place in a dystopia where workers sleep in cell-like rooms and assemble little cubic things at an absurdly slow rate. Life for Bartholomew 467 and his fellow Bartholomews (it seems that every man is named Bartholomew) is monotonous and comically repetitive, but their blank faces suggest that this isn’t generally a problem.

This is a good world to set a cheap short in, because that basic premise can be established in only six static shots that begin Song. The simplicity of the shots echoes the mechanical, modular quality of the Bartholomews’ world, where everything is as discreet and functional as the cogs of a pocket watch.

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nothing about nothing and the use of narrative explosives

This time around, I didn’t stumble onto a Vimeo staff pick I liked as immediately as last time. This go-round I churned through a number, several of which were intriguing — “The fun part is closing circuits through vegetables” a guy says before doing a Massive Attack thing with eggplant and strawberries (!) — but not really worth examining in detail.

But I liked the name of this one, and it turned out to be nice and chewy from a storytelling standpoint. (I’m going to write about specifics below, so you should probably just go ahead and watch all 11ish minutes if you’re going to read on.) (And of course you should.)

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second-guessing slate’s sci-fi shorts selections, day 6

Okay, this is the sixth and last day of my reviewing Slate.com’s best sci-fi shorts of 2012, and boy are my arms tired.

Sight is the best of all the shorts, I think. Reviewing these things has got me thinking about how we take for granted that things will be laid out for us in a way that’s easy to follow, that continuity will only be broken in very intentional ways, and that the tone of the film will be clear enough for us to know what the filmmakers are going for at any moment.

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second-guessing slate’s sci-fi shorts selections, day 5

For this fifth film in my series on Slate.com’s choice of sci-fi shorts from 2012, I’ve got Gamma, whose good and bad points have a lot of parallels with yesterday’s short, Seed. As with everything else in this series, I’m assuming you’ll watch before reading, so beware spoilers.

First, the positives. As in Seed, the visuals of Gamma are haunting and beautiful. And Gamma, again like Seed, gives us a world that feels possible and believable, in large part because of the images of decay and industrial rot that are familiar enough in our everyday lives, but also because the advertisement that begins the film feels like the real product of a hip ad agency.

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second-guessing slate’s sci-fi shorts selections, day 4

Another day, another doorknob, and another sci-fi short reviewed from Slate.com’s 2012 best-of list. Spoilers ahead, so watch the film first.

Seed is the first short of this series that feels like the script and production design are both so classy that I might be watching a wide-release indie film. All of these shorts have professional-looking FX and mostly solid cinematography, but a lot of the landscape in Seed is especially exquisite and would be great documentary footage on its own.

Other good thing: The future as presented in Seed feels the realest of all the shorts. Partly it’s just the lack of fancy gadgetry; Kamp’s gear looks practical, not stylish, which seems only appropriate, and a lot of the film feels as immediate and as threatening as it should.

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second-guessing slate’s sci-fi shorts selections, day 3

I ragged a lot on the first two shorts I reviewed for this series, which has been picking apart Slate.com’s list of 2012’s best sci-fi shorts. Today, though, I’ve got one that has a lot more going for it.

(Check day 1 and day 2 at your leisure.)

The following doesn’t summarize the film, so you may just want to watch it above and then jump into my analysis. (Spoilers ahead, of course.)

In sum, I find that Tempo uses its sci-fi tech well but also serves up an emotionally gratifying story. Harp, the scientist hero, functions well here as an everyman thrown into peril and making the best of a crap situation. The story is compelling, and it helps that Seth Worley, the director, makes the introduction of the invention a natural part of the plot via the rough documentary footage that begins the short.

The clapboards in the doc have labels, so we’re already picking up the nuances of the “time cannon” (a label I made up because it looks like the t-shirt cannons they use at baseball games). We see both its slowing and speeding functions, but also its regrettable effects on living targets. This strategy — familiarizing us with the time cannon by documentary — is fairly organic to the story, unlike the methods of yesterday’s short, Memorize.

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